Search and Destroy
Look for a much more aggressive Te'o in 2010
Look for a much more aggressive Te'o in 2010
Publisher
Posted Jun 2, 2010


IrishEyes offers Prediction No. 5 in its ongoing summer series and examines the most productive single-season defensive performances of the last quarter century.

For Predictions 1-4, click the links at the bottom of the column.

Prediction #5 – Manti Te’o Will Lead the D in Big Plays

Scoring the category remains somewhat subjective, but for our purposes, recordable statistical big plays include: sacks, tackles-for-loss, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, interceptions, passes defended, and blocked kicks/punts. Though defensive or special teams touchdowns are much more important than any standard statistic listed above, we’ll keep things simple and count them equally in our historical tally.

In his only season as a defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco’s 2009 Cincinnati Bearcats featured the following leaders in terms of statistical big plays:

The prevalence of defensive linemen (4 of 7) atop Diaco’s 2009 big play chart points to the likelihood that one of his new Irish defensive ends or outside linebackers, such as Darius Fleming (16 big plays last season), Ethan Johnson (15.5), Brian Smith (12) or Kapron Lewis-Moore (11.5), will rank among Notre Dame’s team leaders in 2010.

But my official prediction is that fast-developing middle linebacker Manti Te’o will become the first true sophomore to pace an Irish squad in this category since outside linebacker Kory Minor turned the trick in 1996. Incidentally, the 90s featured three other true sophomores as category leaders: OLB Bert Berry, All America CB Bobby Taylor, and DT Bryant Young, all of which are detailed below.

25 Seasons of Statistical Stars

The most recent decade featured a 25-year high mark of statistical big plays; the 2003 total of 37.5 set by current New York Giant defensive lineman Justin Tuck.

Key: TFL (Tackle-for-Loss); PD (Pass defended); FF (Forced Fumble); FR (Fumble Recovered); INT (Interception), TD (Touchdown).

  • 2009 – Strong Safety Kyle McCarthy (18): 3 TFL, 10 PD, 5 INT. McCarthy edged DE/SLB Darius Fleming, who finished with 16 total (12 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FF) and DT Ethan Johnson at 15.5 (6.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PD, 2 FR, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick).
  • 2008 – Free Safety David Bruton (19.5): 1.5 TFL, 4 INT, 6 PD, 2 FR, 2 FF. Bruton edged strong side linebacker Harrison Smith, who recorded 19 (8.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 7 PD). MLB Brian Smith finished with 17 including a fumble recovery touchdown vs. Michigan.
  • 2007 – 3-4 Defensive End Trevor Laws (22): 8 TFL, 4 sacks, 5 PD, 2 FR, 3 blocked kicks. Next in line was LB Mo Crum, with 18.5 (4.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT, 5 PD, 2 FR, 3 FF, and a FR TD vs. UCLA).
  • 2006 – 4-3 Defensive End Victor Abiamiri (27.5): 15 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 2 FF. Defensive Tackle Derek Landri tied Abiamiri with 27.5 (15.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 1 PD, 4 blocked kicks) but I awarded Abiamiri the title on the strength of 14 additional hits on the quarterback (a recorded stat in ‘06) vs. Landri’s four.
  • 2005 – Inside Linebacker Brandon Hoyte (27.5): 16.5 TFL, 6 sacks, 3 PD, 2 FF. Hoyte edged defensive end Victor Abiamiri who finished with 26 (15 TFL, 8 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FF). Inside linebacker Corey Mays finished a close third with 25.5 (12.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 PD, 3 FR, 3 FF)
  • 2004 – Defensive End Justin Tuck (20): 14 TFL and 6 sacks. Fellow DE Kyle Budinscak and middle linebacker Mike Goolsby finished tied for second with 16.5 apiece (Budinscak: 6.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 PD, 1 FR, and 1 FF; Goolsby: 7.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PD, 1 FR plus a defensive touchdown at Tennessee, which gives him the edge over Budinscak).
  • 2003 – Defensive End Justin Tuck (37.5): 19 TFL, 13.5 sacks, 2 PD, and 3 FF. Wow…MLB Courtney Watson finished second with 24.5 (15 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PD, and 1 FF).
  • 2002 – Cornerback Shane Walton (23): 5 TFL, 7 INT, 7 PD, 1 FR, 1 FF, 2 TD. Myriad players challenged Walton for the big play crown including ILB Courtney Watson 22 (10 TFL, 3 sacks, 4 INT, 4 PD, 1 TD); MLB Mike Goolsby with 21 (13 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PD, 1 FF); while defensive ends Justin Tuck and Ryan Roberts both chipped in 19 statistical big plays. Six additional defenders totaled big plays totaling in the mid-teens for the best Irish defense since 1993.
  • 2001 – 4-3 Defensive End Anthony Weaver (34): 28 TFL, 7 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PD, 3 FF. Weaver, who switched from a 3-4 to 4-3 DE in ’01, was backed ably by two future All Americans that notched 20 and 19 big plays respectively: inside linebacker Courtney Watson (13 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PD, 1 FR and 1 TD) and cornerback Shane Walton (7 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT, 6 PD, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick). Outside linebacker Rocky Boiman added 18 (11 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 FR, 1 FF).
  • 2000 – 3-4 Defensive End Anthony Weaver (31): 13 TFL, 8 sacks, 2 INT, 5 PD, 1 FR, and 2 FF. ILB Anthony Denman added 22 (14 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 PD, 2 FF) while unheralded NT B.J. Scott chipped in with 15 in his only season as a starter (7 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PD, 1 FR). Safety Tony Driver and CB Brock Williams also notched 15 (Driver: 1 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT, 7 PD, 2 FR, and 2 defensive touchdowns; Williams: 5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 8 PD).

Defensive Ends and current NFL performers Justin Tuck and Anthony Weaver were the program’s only repeat leaders in the 2000s with Weaver posting an incredible 65 in a two-year span.

1990s: Minor and Zorich Post Decade Highs

  • 1999 – Free Safety A’Jani Sanders (19): 10 TFL, 3 INT, 4 PD, 1 FF, 1 TD. Incidentally, 10 tackles-for-loss is impressive for a safety. ILB Anthony Denman finished a close second with 18 big plays (9 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 PD, 3 FR, 2 FF, 1 TD).
  • 1998 – 3-4 Outside Linebacker Lamont Bryant (17): 7 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 PD, 3 FR, 1 TD). Bryant’s name ranks as the biggest surprise leader on the list. Finishing a close second was Bryant’s fellow outside linebacker Kory Minor with 16 (4 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PD, 1 FR, and 3 FF). Middle linebacker Bobbie Howard (my assumed leader) finished third with 15 (6 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INT, 4 PD, 1 FR, and 1 TD – an 89-yard interception return that stands as the longest in program history).
  • 1997 – 3-4 Outside Linebacker Kory Minor (19.5): 8 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 INT, 5 PD. MLB Bobbie Howard (8 TFL, 1 sack, 3 PD, 1 FF) and OLB Lamont Bryant (5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FR, 1 FF) both finished with 12 big plays for an underachieving Irish team (7-6 final record).
  • 1996 – 3-4 Outside linebacker Kory Minor (24): 7 TFL, 8 sacks, 1 INT, 5 PD, 3 FF. Fellow OLB Bert Berry finished with 20 (5 TFL, 10 sacks, 3 PD, 1 FF, and 1 blocked kick) while defensive end Renaldo Wynn totaled 19 (6 TFL, 9 sacks, 1 PD, 2 FR, and 1 TD).
  • 1995 – 3-4 Inside linebacker Lyron Cobbins (17): 3 TFL, 1 sack, 5 INT, 4 PD, 3 FR, 1 FF). Cobbins 5 INT remains a modern-day Irish record among linebackers. Nose tackle Paul Grasmanis finished second with 14.5 (7 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 PD, 2 FR) while defensive end Renaldo Wynn totaled 13.5 (6 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 FF).
  • 1994 – 3-4 Outside linebacker/Rush End Bert Berry (14): 1 TFL, 6 sacks, 4 PD, 3 FF. Nose Tackle Oliver Gibson (7 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 FR) and inside linebacker Justin Goheen (2 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 PD, 2 FR) finished tied for second with 12 big plays apiece for an underachieving Irish squad (#3 pre-season ranking with a 6-5-1 final record).
  • 1993 – Cornerback Bobby Taylor (20): 2 TFL, 1 sack, 4 INT, 9 PD, 2 FR, 1 TD, 1 blocked kick. 4-3 defensive tackle Jim Flanigan (7 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FR, 3 FF) finished second with 18 while safety Jeff Burris (2 sacks, 3 INT, 6 PD, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 blocked kick, 1 PR TD) finished third with 16 big plays in 12 contests. Burris also scored 6 rushing touchdowns, which should count for something as a team’s starting safety. All American DT Bryant Young notched 16.5 big plays (7 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 1 PD, 1 FR).
  • 1992 – 4-3 Defensive End Devon McDonald (18.8): 9.5 TFL, 8.3 sacks, 1 FF. Defensive Tackle Bryant Young (5.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 1 PD, 1 FR) and cornerback Tom Carter tied for second with 15 big plays (5 INT and 10 PD) on a defense that allowed 16 points per game.
  • 1991 – 4-3 Defensive Tackle Bryant Young (tie-18): 9 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 PD, 2 FR, 1 FF as a true sophomore. Though bowl statistics were not recognized at the time, outside linebacker Devon McDonald technically tied Young for the crown with a tackle-for-loss in the Sugar Bowl win over Florida, finishing with 18 big plays (12 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FR, and 3 FF) for a defense in transition, and one that benefited from the most prolific offense (55 offensive touchdowns) in program history.
  • 1990 – 3-4 Nose Tackle Chris Zorich (23): 14 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 PD, 2 FF, 1 FR. Defensive end George “Boo” Williams finished second with 15 big plays (11 TFL, 2 sack, 1 FR, and 1 blocked kick) with All America inside linebacker Michael Stonebreaker (4 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 PD, 2 INT, 3 FF, 1 FR) finishing a surprising third with 14. Outside linebacker Scott Kowalkowski added 12 big plays as well (4 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 PD, 3 FF, 1 FR).

Former San Francisco 49ers OLB Kory Minor was the decade’s only repeat leader, though another ex-49ers star, DT Bryant Young, would have turned the trick in 1991-92 if not for an incredible ’92 Cotton Bowl effort by OLB Devon McDonald (4 TFL) to steal the team lead.

Additionally, I included bowl statistics throughout the column.

1985-1989: Best and Worst of Times

A pair of defensive linemen, Franks Stams (1988 National Champions) and Eric Dorsey (a bright spot and first-round draft pick from the decade-worst 1985 squad) both put forth outstanding individual efforts under vastly different circumstances.
  • 1989 – Cornerback Todd Lyght (17.5): 2 TFL, 8 INT, 6.5 PD, 1 blocked kick. The late Jeff Alm, the unheralded defensive lineman that played next to Chris Zorich, finished second with 17 total big plays (7 TFL, 1 sack, 6 PD, 1 INT, 1 FF, and 1 TD while inside linebacker Ned Bolcar added 16 (6 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 PD, 2 INT, 1 FF, and 1 TD). OLB Scott Kowalkowski notched 13.5 (6 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 PD, 2 FR, 1 blocked kick) while Zorich chipped in with 13 of his own (5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 PD, 2 FR, 1 FF).
  • 1988 – 3-4 DE/OLB Frank Stams (24): 2 TFL, 9 sacks, 8 PD, 3 FF, and 2 FR. Inside linebacker Michael Stonebreaker finished second with 21 (10 TFL, 1 sacks, 5 PD, 2 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, and 1 TD) while defensive tackle Jeff Alm ranked third at 17 (8 TFL, 3 INT, 3 PD, 2 FF, 1 FR). Nose tackle Chris Zorich totaled 13.5 big plays as a first-year starter (4 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 PD, 3 FR).
  • 1987 – 3-4 outside linebacker Cedric Figaro (14): 5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 PD, 1 INT, and 3 FF. Inside linebacker Ned Bolcar finished second with 12 (4 TFL, 1 sack, 3 PD, 2 INT, 2 FR). Bolcar was named National Defensive Player of the Year by CBS.
  • 1986 – 3-4 Outside linebacker Cedric Figaro (19.5): 3 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 4 PD, 2 FF, 7 FR - a program record). The late Wally Kleine (Defensive Tackle) finished second on Lou Holtz’s first team with 16 big plays (8 TFL, 5 sacks, and 3 PD).
  • 1985 – 3-4 Defensive Tackle Eric Dorsey (23): 18 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 FF, and 2 FR. Cornerback Troy Wilson finished second with 16 big plays (4 TFL, 9 PD, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR) while Dorsey’s fellow DT Wally Kleine finished third with 13 (6 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 FF)

2010 – The Middle Linebacker Strikes Back

I predict Te’o’s total to reach the 22-24 big play range in 2010, with approximations of 12 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PD, 1 INT, 3 FF, 1 FR, and 1 TD. In doing so, Te’o would join Brandon Hoyte (2005) and Lyron Cobbins (1995) as the only middle/inside linebackers to lead an Irish team in statistical big plays over the last 25 seasons.

Look for DE Ethan Johnson, OLB Darius Fleming and OLB Brian Smith to finish among the top four in statistical big plays as well.

25-Season Defensive Leaders by Position:

  • True Defensive Ends: 5 (Trevor Laws, Victor Abiamiri, Justin Tuck, Anthony Weaver, Devon McDonald).
  • True Outside Linebackers: 4 (Kory Minor, Lamont Bryant, Cedric Figaro)
  • Interior Defensive Tackles/Nose Tackles: 3 (Bryant Young, Chris Zorich, Eric Dorsey). DT Derek Landri technically tied DE Victor Abiamiri in 2006.
  • Inside/Middle Linebacker: 2 (Brandon Hoyte and Lyron Cobbins)
  • Cornerback: 3 (Shane Walton, Bobby Taylor, Todd Lyght – Each was selected 1st Team All America)
  • Safety: 3 (Kyle McCarthy, David Bruton, A’Jani Sanders)
  • Defensive End/Rush End: 2 (Bert Berry, Frank Stams)

Click the links below for our first three detailed predictions for the upcoming Irish season.

Prediction No. 1

Prediction No. 2

Prediction No. 3

Prediction No. 4



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